Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Knocking out the trade

Some slightly worrying comments here from Chris Tulloch, managing director of pub operator Weston Castle who specialise in breathing a new lease of life into failing low-end pubs belonging to Thwaites and Mitchells.

“We always have only one bar, it may serve to more than one area or more than one room. The bar, in our opinion, is the real heart of the community pub and it’s the most important thing in every refurbishment we do.

“Secondly, we take away pokey rooms, corridors and blind spots. This ensures that the bar is the centrepiece of a relatively open-plan venue and everything can be seen from the bar.”

Tulloch added that machine locations are very important too and Weston redesigns the entire layout so that it is able to continue to receive 20% of its profits from machines. There are also pool tables, jukeboxes, darts, bingo, live music and karaoke themed nights.
Well, I suppose anything that improves the trade of pubs has to be welcomed, but knocking them through and turning them into brash, standardised bars may not prove a good idea in the long term when customers value character and distinctiveness. Personally I actively seek out pubs with pokey rooms, corridors and blind spots.

What he is describing sounds very much like the typical failed pub model of the past forty years. There’s no mention of improving the drink and food offer, nor indeed of ensuring that there are decent smoking facilities. And, by definition, you can’t see outside areas from the bar.


  1. They'll still be low end pubs, just more open plan ones!

  2. What an unbelievably dated outlook. Has he even been paying attention to what's been happening in the pub trade? However, I've seen it in action locally where operators continue to use discredited, and ultimately failing, business strategies.

    I think Tandleman has it about right.

  3. A Higsons pub called the Alexandria in Waterloo had nooks and separate rooms and some wonderful original wood panelling. They ripped out all the panelling, made it more open plan and then installed modern cheapo wood chip panelling, which looked rubbish in a few months. The character of what had been a very nice pub was utterly destroyed. It never recovered and is a rubbish pub to this day. Last time I passed it, it wasn't open.

  4. Something I read about planning in Manchester years ago - and I suspect it's still true, and not just in Manchester - is that the police take an active interest in new pub licenses at quite a detailed level, and one of the details they're particularly interested in is clear sightlines. This is why you'll never see a new pub with a snug - not because the punters or even the publicans don't want it, but because it creates a space where people could potentially get up to various illegal activities without anyone at the bar seeing what they were doing. Of course, most actually-existing snugs aren't dens of drug-dealing, black-marketeering, tobacco-smoking etc, but you can't be too careful. It's what they call situational crime prevention - take away all the places where crime could happen, and hey presto, no crime.

  5. Yes, I've seen those diagrams of the "all seeing eye", but the authorities don't generally require existing pubs to be knocked through to provide 100% visiibility, and there are still plenty around that don't.

    Interestingly, the Nursery in Heaton Norris, built in 1939, although well compartmentalised, allows all the public areas on the ground floor to be supervised from the central servery.

    And, of course, legislation has now forced a considerable amount of pub activity to move outside into a location where it can't be directly overseen from the bar, hence numerous reports of cans being drunk in pub gardens and substances other than tobacco being smoked.

  6. Any thoughts of doing the worst pub awards? I went in one a few months ago which I still can't get out of my mind.
    Unfortunately I don't know what it used to be like as I'm new in the area but now it is the coldest most plastic café style open plan nightmare I've ever entered in 50 years of pubbing. A lovely old building wrecked.
    I've since walked past it many times and without exemption its almost always empty. The occasional mum with kid and that's it.
    About 50 yards from it is a thriving old pub full with punters. Don't the owners/landlords ever do any kind of research?


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